As Mitt Romney prepares to travel to Europe and Israel to make his case to past and current world leaders this week, he leaves behind a public disagreement with one of America’s strongest allies.
At a fundraiser Sunday night in San Francisco, Romney recounted his version of a conversation he had earlier in the day with Bob Carr, the Australian foreign minister. Romney claimed that Carr had told him in their private meeting that America was “in decline,” but that the situation could be turned around if an appropriate budget deal is reached.
Romney has repeatedly attacked Obama by saying he won’t “apologize for America”, as he insists the president has. But instead of rejecting Carr’s line, Romney used it to attack Obama.
Carr took issue with Romney’s characterization of the events, insisting that the former Massachusetts governor got it backward. He said in a statement released by the Embassy of Australia that “his remark that ‘America is just one budget deal away from ending all talk of America being in decline’ was in praise of America’s economic strengths.”
Romney’s fundraisers are covered by a rotating pool of reporters (much like White House events that aren’t big enough to accommodate a full press corps) so Romney’s recounting of the Carr quote comes from a single reporter who was in the room. Romney and Carr met for an impromptu visit in San Francisco before the fundraiser.
“I met today with the foreign minister of Australia. He said something, and I said ‘Can I quote you?’ and he said yes,” Romney told fundraiser attendees, according to the pool report. “He said ‘America is just one budget deal away from ending all talk of America being in decline.’”
Romney offered his own assessment of what Carr meant:
What he meant by that is that if we get serious about taking steps to make sure that America will finally get to a balanced budget, and if we make sure these unfunded liabilities don’t crush us, if we show the world that we come together to get that job done, if we have real leadership that will get Congress to work together and actually reach that conclusion, that agreement, than the world will recognize America’s going to come roaring back.
“This idea of America in decline, it was interesting he said that, he led the talk of America being in decline,” Romney said. “See that’s not talk we hear about here as much as they’re hearing there. And if they’re thinking about investing in America, entrepreneurs putting their future in America, if they think America’s in decline they’re not gonna do it.”
That makes Romney’s version: Carr was saying that America is in decline, and that only a budget plan that balances the country’s books — presumably Romney’s — will change that assessment.
For his part, President Obama has pushed back hard on the idea that America is in decline.
“Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” Obama said in his January State of the Union address.
Initial reports described Romney’s version of events:
“Foreign leaders see ‘America in decline,’ Australian foreign minister tells Romney,” wrote NBC News.
Romney’s characterization of the conversation quickly raised eyebrows: “In some ways, this is a reversion to a theme Romney has tapped since the early days of the campaign, with his slogan ‘Believe in America.’ But quoting a foreign leader saying it is a different thing,” wrote Politico.
Through the Australian embassy, Carr said that’s not what he meant at all.
“Senator Carr’s comment was in praise of American economic strengths,” the embassy said in a statement. “Reports suggesting these were a criticism of the American economy are incorrect.”
The embassy said Carr’s comments were similar to these he gave at a conference in April 2012:
This notion that I’ve been thinking of for the last few days, and that is that America could be one budget deal away — in the context of economic recovery — one budget deal away from banishing the notion of American declinism.
Think about that: one budget deal, an exercise of statesmanship up the road in the context of an economic bounceback.
And all of a sudden, with energy independence crystallising, with technological innovation, resurgence of American manufacturing, [and] people who spoke about American decline could be revising their thesis.